Two Weeks: Keep Smiling - Cannes is Where We Fall in Love Again
by Alex Billington
May 24, 2014
"I could watch you for a lifetime, you're my favorite movie, a thousand endings, you mean everything to me." Here we are at the end again, and while I'm starting to get sad that another Cannes Film Festival is over, I can't help but smile looking back on how wonderful it has been. While I tend to often complain about some of the other critics and their incessant scrutiny or odd moviegoing choices, it was a late night chat with Sasha Stone of Awards Daily and the subsequent blog post she wrote before leaving that made me realize - screw all that. We are truly the lucky ones, sitting here on the Mediterranean, watching the best that cinema has to offer for 12 days straight. Living the life. This is amazing, and I'm so grateful to be here, enjoying this.
Cannes can be a bit brutal, for critics (I wrote about exhaustion a few days ago), and Cannes can be exciting to watch from afar. I always find it very interesting to wonder what it's like to stay at home and read about all the films playing, read about the world premieres, the press booing, and endless standing ovations; see all the red carpet gowns and photos, watch videos from the Croisette and interviews on TV. I can't speak to that experience, but I can realize that I must remain humble when I recognize just how incredible it is that I'm one of the few that gets to be here. As Sasha said: "We are lucky, we few who get to come here, and that might be the thing about the whole Cannes fest that’s easy to forget." It's so true, but there are reminders.
Every time I put up a photo, every time I write about Cannes on my Facebook, someone always snaps back with a comment like "#jealous" or "so lucky!" I come here because I want to find and fall in love with great films, I want to inspire others to come here and to love movies as much as all of us; I don't want to make anyone jealous, but I know it's impossible not to. I come to Cannes because I genuinely love film, through-and-through, and I love basking in the glory that is cinema. I'm passionate about it and I wake up every day wondering what I'm going to see next, wondering how I can challenge my own feelings about filmmaking.
That's the excitement and thrill of it. Sometimes critics get lost in the mix at Cannes, falling down the rabbit hole of cynicism, looking for more films to bash and critique and get angry about than ones to love. They will vehemently deny this, of course, but it's prevalent in so many screenings throughout the festival. I had to title my review of Michel Hazanavicius' new film "The Search is Better Than Critics Claim" because there was such vile hate being thrown at it from critics everywhere, and I felt like it needed defending. It's not that bad, and doesn't deserve being slaughtered just because it wasn't the edgiest, most experimental film they've ever seen. Not everything has to reinvent cinema, but it should be made with passion and integrity at least.
Every morning I get to wake up and look out my window down on the Croisette, always in awe that I'm here, at the world famous Cannes Film Festival, for my sixth year. Here's what it looks like in Cannes from above:
Film festivals are wonderful for many reasons: the premieres, the celebrities, the excitement, the passion, the culture, the industry, the atmosphere. But most of all, the people. I owe so much to everyone who has ever said "Hi" to me, anyone who has ever smiled at me, sat next to me, chatted with me, argued with me, discussed the merits of films or filmmakers with me. Everyone I meet here is wonderful, and they also love films, that's why they come here. It's a beautiful city, and sure it's fun to spend a few weeks on the beach watching celebrities walk up the red carpet, but if that's all anyone cared about it we would lose inspiration fast. Here, the people care about auteurs, filmmakers; they cheer at directors as loudly as they cheer actors.
In response to those who wonder how I deal with all the haters, all the people who say I'm "wrong" in my review, or I'm an idiot, or that I shouldn't be here just because I don't love Jean-Luc Godard as much as everyone else - it doesn't bother me. It was Sasha who gave me the best advice, and wrote about what all this means. She suggests I should actually look at it as a good thing, a kind of success, if possible. From her blog:
When I walk these ancient streets of Cannes, when I put my toes in the sand on the beach that spreads out before the Mediterranean, when I sit down in the cool calm of the Lumiere, I am only rarely filled with sadness — and that’s usually to do with what I’ve left behind in the US. In truth, to Alex and to anyone else who has haters — if no one is hating on you you are doing something very very wrong. Your goal as a writer is not to have everyone like you. If you want everyone to like you deliver them sandwiches and coffee every day, clean their homes, babysit their kids. Otherwise, as Bob Dylan would say, “if I’d have paid attention to what others were thinking, the heart inside me would have died.”
I think she touches on something very deep with that Bob Dylan quote - that having a heart is as important as having a brain. Cinema is meant to touch us, to change us, to make us feel and be moved as much as it makes us think, to stir something deep down inside if it's as brilliant as we're hoping. Maybe something frustrating can make us feel that (like with Fabrice Du Welz's Alleluia), but it can be beauty (as with Zhang Yimou's Coming Home) as much as hate (as with Kornél Mundruczó's White God). Quentin Tarantino made a visit to the Croisette this year for a 20th anniversary of Pulp Fiction, and it was him who once said that all films have merits, there's insight to gain, and lessons to learn from every film we see, even bad ones.
At the end of it all, I do my best to remain humble, even though in Cannes that can be a challenge. I try to speak about how wonderful it is to be here, not complain about the rain or cell phones (ugh) or cramped seats. I want to inspire others to want to come to Cannes for the films, not for celebrities. To cherish the big screen more than the red carpet. To respect each and every filmmaker and director and screenwriter as much as every actor and actress. To take a chance, to take a risk, to discover something new, and to let your heart and head guide you. "Good films make your life better." It's so damn true. Live on, dream on…